We were inspired to offer this roundup of the best smart bikes by the recent phenomenon that’s seen indoor cycling evolve from the most universally hated thing in cycling, to one of its fastest-growing sectors. This is a phenomenon that’s largely due to the rise of the innovation found in today’s best turbo trainers.
Long gone are the days of the Computrainer that was locked into its own software, now there are smart turbo trainers across a range of price points, designed to work with all indoor cycling apps. These trainers can react to virtual changes in the road surface and gradient to help you hit finite power targets, so you get the most out of your time pedalling nowhere.
The best smart bikes come with a variety of features, and therefore price tags. At the top of the price scale, we are now seeing a new breed of smart bikes. These are not the typical spin bikes you’ll find at the local gym, which use friction brakes to create resistance and feel like you’re pedalling through treacle. No, the best smart bikes use built-in power meters to measure output along with powerful electromagnets to provide ultra-realistic ride quality and finite changes in resistance. Some even tilt to simulate changes in gradient when using apps like Zwift, RGT Cycling or Rouvy.
Read on to discover the best smart bikes you can buy today, or jump to our quick look at why you should buy one.
Best smart bikes
For its own version of the smart bike, Tacx has essentially taken one of its Neo trainers and built a bike on top of it. The electromagnetic drive unit itself and customisable road feel are all exactly the same — heck, you even get the laser light show too. Like the Neo trainers, the Neo Smart Bike can be used without mains power if you’d like, but you’ll need to plug it into the wall if you want the freewheel to spin down when you’ve stopped pedalling.
At the front, Tacx has added dual fans that can be aimed directly at your face and the airflow can be tailored to track your speed, power or heart rate should you be after a more interactive experience. While the shifters at the front look and feel a little different to the levers on your bike, the Neo Smart Bike supports virtual shifting. You can customise the gear ratios in the companion app and a built-in display shows you which virtual cog you are spinning in addition to metrics like speed, heart rate and power.
The bike sees a standard saddle and bars, meaning these can be customised depending on your personal preference and all the fit adjustments can be made either with the included levers or a hex wrench. Tacx offers the neatest solution for adjusting the crank length, using a design similar to the flip-chips used in full-suspension mountain bikes.
The drive unit can generate up to 2,200 watts of resistance, simulate a 25 per cent incline and offers pedalling analysis to precisely measure how round your pedal stroke is. Tacx claims the power readings are within 1 per cent.
Tacx went the route of bolting a bike on top of its Neo trainer, and so did Wahoo — sort of. The Kickr bike features a brand new resistance unit for Wahoo; one which uses a quieter electromagnetic design which can generate up to a leg-busting 2,200 watts of resistance, instead of the belt-driven system found on its direct-drive Kickr turbo trainers and all-new Wahoo Kickr20. Wahoo then went a step further and integrated the function of Kickr Climb, to simulate inclines of +20 per cent and -15 per cent, mimicking the outdoor riding experience as closely as possible.
With a standard saddle and bar, bike fit is tool-free using quick-release levers and each adjustable point features a printed-on measuring rule. Fit results from Guru, Retül and Trek Fit can generate the numbers needed to replicate your position on the road bike to the Kickr Bike. Alternatively, the accompanying app can produce fit measurements from a photo of your current bike, or from your height, inseam and riding style — or you can use a tape measure and get the measurements yourself. A mixture of the latter options turned out to be the best solution in our recent review.
The Kickr bike isn’t the best looking smart bike, with function taking precedence over form — just look at the multi-hole system for customising crank length. At the front, the shifters’ ergonomics replicate Shimano’s dual control levers; however, the buttons can be customised to function like Shimano, SRAM eTap or even Campagnolo drivetrains. Next to the stem there is a small screen that shows you what gear you’re in, and there is a USB port on the underside to charge your phone or tablet — unfortunately, there is nowhere to put said phone or tablet, you’ll need a Kickr Desk for that.
Having been sceptical initially, after a month of testing our verdict was that the Wahoo Kickr bike provides one of the most engaging indoor riding experiences available, though while the ride feel and easy-fit process are top-notch, it does all come at a hefty cost.
Nowadays Stages Cycling is best known for its budget-friendly crank-based power meters, however, it has long been in the world of studio spin bikes. The Stages Smart Bike is the brand’s first attempt at the smart trainer bike for the recreational cyclist — it has a freewheel so you can coast and drop bars instead of the cow horn spin bike bars. In designing its smart bike, Stages has leant heavily on its fitness bike chops to build a stable platform that uses a Gates Carbon belt drive to spin the 22.7kg flywheel up to a resistance of 3,000 watts, as well as providing reliability and a low decibel count.
With an integrated dual-sided power meter, the Stages Smart bike is Bluetooth and ANT+ enabled so it will integrate seamlessly with the training app of your choice, or allow your head unit to dictate your workout.
Mounted to the drop bars are a set of special TRP levers that feature electronic shift buttons, and separate sprint buttons which can be customised. There is a decent-sized mount for your phone or tablet, and a tray which allows you to keep your snacks to hand for those big Zwift workouts.
Wattbike launched its Atom in 2017 – well ahead of the rest of the best smart bikes – to work seamlessly with the latest wave of third party training apps. The 2nd generation Atom was launched last June, with a new resistance unit that drastically speeds up shifting response and reaction times to changes in gradient when riding Zwift.
The 2nd generation Atom is currently limited to UK customers, but US customers can get the original model, which still holds its own in the best smart bike competition.
On both, the handlebar and saddle are entirely adjustable; height is tool-free, but to change the fore and aft you’ll need to break out the hex keys. While the bike offers plenty of adjustability, the cranks are fixed at 170mm and can’t be changed like some of the other bikes on offer.
The original Atom is capable of simulating 2,000 watts of resistance with a claimed +/-2 per cent accuracy and can replicate gradients of up to 20 per cent. The newer model is accurate to +/-1 per cent, and can handle 2,500 watts.
With both Bluetooth and ANT+ FEC connectivity, the Atom is universally compatible, meaning you can use a training app or your head unit to control your workouts. The drop bars feature what amount to dual control levers without the lever blades, and feature buttons which simulate shifting. Off the front of the bars are aero bar extensions which double as a phone/tablet holder.
The Atom also offers pedalling efficiency analysis, to help you not only become stronger but to also improve your pedal stroke.
For a long time, SRM has been considered the gold standard when it comes to the best power meters not to mention accuracy, so with watt-obsessed masses flocking to their basements to spend hours churning out intervals, it’s no surprise the German outfit is trying to snag its own piece of the pie.
SRM has taken a slightly different approach with its Smart IT trainer using a standard road crank and an 11-speed road cassette along with a Shimano 105 derailleur and chain to spin a 30kg electromagnetic flywheel, which is capable of producing 1,400 watts of resistance. All of this is monitored by the brand’s Origin power meter claimed to be accurate to +/- 1 per cent.
The Smart IT can either be controlled by a third party app via ANT+ or Bluetooth or its own controller that can adjust resistance at 5w increments.
The bike is fully adjustable and features a standard drop bar and saddle, and you could even swap in your own drivetrain parts if you really wanted to — though we’re not sure why you would.
It’s an expensive unit, made somewhat less eye-watering with the knowledge that you can swap out the Origin power meter from the Smart IT onto your road bike for the summer months if desired, for those that see the indoor trainer as a bad-weather necessity.
The frame is sturdy, and SRM says it’s designed to handle forces from significant sprint efforts, but there is no getting around the fact that it’s a bit of an eyesore.
Spin bikes have been in gyms for as long as we can remember, but Peloton has changed the game and reinvigorated a segment of indoor training for the masses beyond the Zwifters, Sufferlandrians, and TrainerRoadies.
In terms of the bike itself, it’s really not all that revolutionary; a knob near the handlebars adjusts the resistance, the saddle and bar position is adjustable without tools and there is no flywheel so you can’t coast — but we’ve never been on a ‘spin bike’ that isn’t a fixie.
But it’s not the bike itself that has created the phenomenon, its the sweatproof 22in touch screen at the front that’s earned the acclaim. This enormous head unit is ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled and uses your home Wifi to run the Peloton app which features over 4,000 pre-recorded spin classes, ranging in length from 20-90 min, as well as live classes. Professional spin instructors run most of these, but every once in a while people like Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie drop in to run a session. One thing the app doesn’t do is adjust the resistance, you’ll have to do that manually to hit your targets.
As with any of the other training apps, the sessions range in difficulty from cruisey spins to please-empty-the-contents-of-your-stomach-into-this-bucket difficult — there are scenic rides too. Peloton has also added a community aspect to its ecosystem, you can follow and chat with other people who are doing the same class, and see live rankings on who is pushing the most watts.
Why should you buy a smart bike?
People are inherently lazy, and if things are hard they are less likely to do them. With a smart bike, once you have replicated the fit from your road bike over to the smart bike, all you have to do is jump on and start pedalling. There is no need to wheel your road-grime-splattered bike through the house, remove wheels, faff with setting up your laptop or lament sensors that won’t pair with the app you’re trying to use.
Dedicated training bikes are also noticeably more stable than your standard smart trainer and most will be quieter too.
While these features are all well and good, we think the main selling point of smart bikes, is the fact that it takes some stress off your bike and components. Wearable parts like chainrings, chains and cassettes are expensive, and carbon frames don’t like big lateral loads when they are essentially bolted to the floor.
Is this streamlining of the indoor trainer into a dedicated smart bike worth the cost of buying two top-of-the-line smart trainers? We will leave that up to you.